jjoffe9_David HeckerGetty Images_germanytanksscholz David Hecker/Getty Images

The German Lamb Is Learning to Howl

The nation that went to the gates of Moscow in World War II has become as aggressive as a cuddly cat. But with its decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Germany's "culture of reticence," particularly with respect to Russia, may soon be a thing of the past.

HAMBURG – “Tankeschön,” reads a punning meme making the rounds online these days. It shows a German panzer with a Ukrainian flag. A year into the war, Germany is suddenly set to deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks. The decision signals a stunning reversal of a longstanding, and obsessively upheld, principle of German foreign policy: no offensive hardware for Ukraine; we Germans can’t afford to rile the Russians.

Initially, Germany sent only helmets and body armor to Ukrainians battling the Russian invaders. As pressure from Germany’s allies and Ukrainians rose, more serious stuff was dribbled out bit by bit: artillery, shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, armored personnel carriers, flak panzers and short-range rockets. But battle tanks were strictly verboten. Deemed offensive weapons, these would supposedly expose Germany to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fury. So, it was “nein” for a whole year. Now, German-made tanks will be rolling into Ukraine.

What is behind this stunning volte-face? Has Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government finally grasped that there is more at stake than moral obligation to the victims of Russia’s genocidal war?